I am interning in the healthcare field and I’m 1 of 2 Black women at my facility. I am also the only Black student in a class of 17 White females, and 1 Swedish male. My instructor told us, on the first day of clinical placement at the hospital, to wear our hair back and out of our face. My face fell in disappointment. My signature style was a big, out-there twist-out. Maybe a few Bantu knots in the front to shake things up. But I detested wearing my hair tamed down because, my hair didn’t like to be tamed down!
The other girls came to the facility in sleek ponytails, sensible buns and one in a cute Dutch braid pinned up against the back of her head. I came with a Crown Twist but I had grappled that morning with the idea I should straighten my hair and wear it in a bun to be taken more seriously and professionally by the legion of doctors, physiotherapists, nurses and patient’s families that I would see every day–and the patient’s themselves. I struggled to feel competent in the sea of blonde ponytails and chignons. I know this is not just my struggle.
Many Black women contend with the idea of proudly showcasing their natural Afro hair, but also the understandable desire to be taken seriously in their profession. How you look matters. I have a Black female acquaintance working for a prestigious Canadian business who has shiny, straight long black weave. She always slays in power suits and red lipstick, and I sometimes wonder if she would have that high-powered job without the weave? On the other hand, I have an acquaintance who is a Black female doctor in California who wears her Afro proudly, or twists, and dons African earrings and is extremely intelligent and influential. She did not let herself become defined by European standards of beauty, in fact, she was hellbent on addressing racism and sexism and calling it out for what it is.
I’m not going to straighten my kinks to be taken more seriously. My intelligence stems from my brain, not my scalp. When eyes roll or nurses pretend to ignore me, I will speak up. They’ll learn I’m a force to be reckoned with. Afro hair and all. Let’s not get into the professional world and then take a turn down European lane, ladies. Up here, it’s even more important to stand our ground and shape our Black identities.